The dried toothpaste spittle glared at me from the rim of the plastic, pink kids’ cup. I slowly, begrudgingly placed my rinsed off toothbrush in the cup, taking care to prevent its canoodling with the other toothbrushes propped inside the cup. My face scrunched involuntarily in disgust.
I walked out to the kitchen. Glaring at me through the window was the enormous mud hole in the backyard that will someday become an extra bedroom, but for now, it’s our mud holder. Please Lord, make the rain stop.
So, I went to sit on the couch to just take a moment. But as I approached the rumpled cushions, there was mud from a dog paw, a blanket of dog fur, and an overall odor of…dog.
And that’s when it hit me: I miss that little apartment sometimes.
Today, I am back in my hometown for a few days to speak at a conference. I came a few days early to celebrate a friend and her baby. The party played a slideshow of church trips, vacations, and every day moments that she and I had shared with our other lifelong friends. As I looked at the smiling faces in the photos, I was so grateful, but there was also a tiny ache.
I stayed in the home of another friend, a place that has brought me so much comfort during the darkest days, and I longed for that season with her again, despite how hard my life was during that time. Her beautiful, decorated, and organized home reminded me of the beautiful, decorated, organized home I had back then. I loved that house.
I drove around the manicured streets of my city, ate delicious food, and laughed with the people who know me the deepest. I know it’s not for everyone, but for me it’s so comfortable here.
Life has changed dramatically even since one year ago when I lived in the comfort of my own, quiet apartment where everything was in its place, dogs stayed off the furniture, and I had all the spacious closets to myself.
After getting married in October, I was sling-shot from quiet comfort to a four-ring circus where I no longer independently control the schedule, the food, the money, or even where I sit during a movie night. It’s been a shock at times. I remember pieces of my life before today and long to return to their comfort.
“Lord,” I’ve prayed from my new home in Kentucky, “I want to be here. I love being married to Guy more than anything. But what do I do with these yearnings that creep up sometimes for moments and places and friendships from the past? Help me to find contentment and peace with where I am today.”
One particular Saturday morning, after a long week of crazy, I found myself sitting at home alone. The movies of the past were playing in my head, and I longed for a calmer and cleaner house, closer entertainment and shopping options, and the convenience of popping over to a close friend’s house to chat. I could not get these things out of my mind.
It wasn’t that I regretted my move, because being loved by Guy has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. But I was so exhausted by the mental run-around of constantly wishing I could have some things the way they used to be.
Do you ever get stuck there?
So, I sat down on the couch. I remembered what all God had brought me through – deaths, divorce, and loss upon loss – and I was so grateful. During that season, I can remember thinking, at least my friends and my home haven’t changed. I’m glad some important things get to stay the same.
And yet now, even those things are different. Help, Lord!
I began reading where I’d left off, Philippians 3. Paul said, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us up to heaven” (vs. 13).
In the verses previous, Paul had just listed his human qualifications, education, and prestigious positions. I bet Paul experienced the comforts this life had to offer. I wonder what it was like for him to give all that up in order to follow where Christ was calling him – traveling the world in harsh conditions to tell people about Christ. Maybe as a kid Paul just wanted to reach the highest rank of Pharisee (I don’t even know what that would be), but maybe then he could have a comfortable and predictable life. Sometimes I think that’s what I want when I’m really honest with myself.
But instead, Paul, who used to have a plush life, is telling us to “forget what is behind.” I’d read this verse a dozen times in reference to the painful parts of my past, but suddenly it smacked me between the eyes with a new meaning: sometimes “forgetting what is behind” means we even have to forget (or turn our focus from) the GOOD things that are behind us so that we can focus on what is ahead of us.
I’d never thought that I might need to forget the good things of the past by not giving them so much thought.
Later in Philippians 4, Paul tells us the secret to his contentment. “…For I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need” (Phil. 4:11-13).
With the help of Christ, we can forget what is behind and focus on what He is doing right now right in front of us.
I can focus not on the crusty toothpaste cup but on the two young lives I get to pour into.
I can focus not on the mud hole but on the home the Lord is building within these walls that is a love like I’ve never known before.
I can focus not on the nasty couch made possible by a particularly crazy dog who has rubbed off on my calm dog, but on the ways I’m getting to learn and choose to love all of God’s creations. And bless his doggy heart, he sure tries to sit calmly sometimes…we’re both learning.
When I’m tempted to stew on the good things of the past, I can choose to make my mind remember that Jesus is doing something good now. And that’s where He wants me to place my thoughts. He’s still not done with this story.
Today, I sit in a quiet, clean space to work. But all I can think about it getting home to that currently cramped and chaotic place we call home. I’m thankful for a fresh perspective and a reminder that God wants my attention only on today and what good He’s preparing to do next.
When I walk through that door on Tuesday night, I might feel like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life after he gets a second chance at his crazy, beautiful life. I might even exclaim like George, “I love you crusty toothpaste cup! I love you mud hole! I love you nasty couch!”
It’s all about perspective: We forget what is behind. We strain toward what is ahead.